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Firig1965

Trapped in law but no future in law

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Posted (edited)

I'm not really sure what I hope to get from this post but just wondering if anyone else has experience in my situation and can chime in.

Basically I feel like I have no future in the legal profession as all my legal experience is in extremely basic, low-level legal work, but it also feels like I'm trapped in the profession as no other industries/careers take me seriously.

My background:

I got my law degree from Osgoode in 2015 but struggled to find articles. After 1.5 years of working retail jobs, I finally managed to land an articling position doing document review at a small technology start-up. The pay was basically minimum wage, but at that point I was just happy to find articles. While I managed to get called afterwards in early 2018, taking that position was probably one of my worst decisions.

I'm still working in the same role today but the pay is still horrible and I have learned absolutely nothing. I have zero litigation experience, almost no experience in solicitor work (I don't know how to do incorporations or any other basic solicitor work). My only relevant legal experience is in reviewing some basic contracts making sure they make sense. Someone without legal training could do my job, most of my work is basically doing copywriting and editing grammar/spelling of documents. I've been in this role for 3 years now but my position is basically legal in title only.

Since I was called I have been looking for other positions but firms don't take me seriously as I have no relevant experience and in-house roles require 5+ years of relevant experience. I managed to get one municipal solicitor interview and the entire interview basically went "Unfortunately I have no practical experience in that area, but I'm eager to learn." Needless to say I didn't get the job.

I've tried to apply to non-legal roles like policy jobs or contract management positions but 95% of the time receive no response and the other 5% during phone screening I get hammered with concerns about whether I will leave them as soon as another law opportunity opens up. I've never made it past phone screening after hundreds of applications to these kinds of roles.

After seeing my weaknesses I started volunteering at low income legal clinics to try and gain some experience but my experience there is literally me furiously googling everything while going from client to client. I feel overwhelmed that I'm harming my clients with my inexperience and the clinic is so busy that I never have any opportunity to shadow or watch some experienced practitioners to gain experience or really learn anything. Everyone there is rushing to go from client appointment to client appointment.

I've also debated going for more schooling or trying for alternative certifications but it's daunting paying for more schooling while I'm still trying to pay off my law school loans!

COVID is now threatening the company I'm working at now and there seems to be a very real risk that the company will go under. If that happens I will be a 3rd year call with no relevant legal experience. I'm absolutely terrified of this as I can't seem to get non-legal positions, but I also don't have experience in legal positions.

Edited by Firig1965

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You must have some experience you can sell to employers. What area of law is your ideal job in? No one has experience (or at least usable experience) in all areas of law. I’d try and narrow down what type of area of law you want to potentially work in in the future and try your best at gaining related or transferable experience in that area which you can sell and talk up to potential employers.

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I think you need to give yourself a bit more credit. Even if you don't have a ton of experience, you are still have a law degree and are entitled to practice law. That has value to employers.

4 hours ago, Firig1965 said:

My only relevant legal experience is in reviewing some basic contracts making sure they make sense. Someone without legal training could do my job, most of my work is basically doing copywriting and editing grammar/spelling of documents.

As someone who has dealt with a lot of realtors, No this is not work that can be done by someone without legal training. It seems basic to you because the basics of contract law is so entrenched in law students brains by the time they graduate. The average person doesn't even know what consideration is.  I have seen realtors (who technically have some level a legal training) put together some pretty horrendous (read: downright negligent) contracts. 

4 hours ago, Firig1965 said:

I've tried to apply to non-legal roles like policy jobs or contract management positions but 95% of the time receive no response and the other 5% during phone screening I get hammered with concerns about whether I will leave them as soon as another law opportunity opens up.

This sounds like a pretty normal job searching experience, regardless of field or qualifications. @canuckfanatic posted a neat infographic about their job search not to long ago, but I can't find the exact post. It looked incredibly similar to my job search. I sent out about 50 applications, got 3 interviews and one job offer. I don't think you are as under qualified as you think, it's just that job searching fucking sucks.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, lawstudent20202020 said:

This sounds like a pretty normal job searching experience, regardless of field or qualifications. @canuckfanatic posted a neat infographic about their job search not to long ago, but I can't find the exact post. It looked incredibly similar to my job search. I sent out about 50 applications, got 3 interviews and one job offer. I don't think you are as under qualified as you think, it's just that job searching fucking sucks.

Here's my post for reference:

Hunting for jobs is a numbers game.

You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

- Wayne Gretzky

     - Michael Scott

Edited by canuckfanatic
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2 hours ago, lawstudent20202020 said:

I think you need to give yourself a bit more credit. Even if you don't have a ton of experience, you are still have a law degree and are entitled to practice law. That has value to employers.

As someone who has dealt with a lot of realtors, No this is not work that can be done by someone without legal training. It seems basic to you because the basics of contract law is so entrenched in law students brains by the time they graduate. The average person doesn't even know what consideration is.  I have seen realtors (who technically have some level a legal training) put together some pretty horrendous (read: downright negligent) contracts. 

This sounds like a pretty normal job searching experience, regardless of field or qualifications. @canuckfanatic posted a neat infographic about their job search not to long ago, but I can't find the exact post. It looked incredibly similar to my job search. I sent out about 50 applications, got 3 interviews and one job offer. I don't think you are as under qualified as you think, it's just that job searching fucking sucks.

I don’t think it’s fair to say OPs experience is a normal job search experience, at least out of Osgoode. 

Retail jobs for 1.5 years, articles that sound like they barely actually satisfied the requirements for articles, one interview for a legal position in the two years post-call and zero in person interviews for non-legal positions are some seriously dire stats. It’s one thing to say job applications are a numbers game, quite another to suggest OPs experience is normal. 

I don’t really have any advice for OP, though. It sounds like quite a difficult situation 

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7 hours ago, Firig1965 said:

my experience there is literally me furiously googling everything while going from client to client

I mean, welcome to the club. I just googled "where are the maldives" during a client call that was pretty Maldives-oriented. 

31 minutes ago, Diplock said:

I honestly think your issue here isn't that there's a lack of time (seriously - what are they going to do - complain you are volunteering too slowly?) but rather that you haven't got the hand-holding you hoped for. You're not going to get it. Get over that.

Also sounds like there could be an expectations management issue. Not a lot of clinic work needs to be done on the spot, it just feels that way sometimes. I mean, some clinics like NLS sound like a bit of a zoo. But really, most client issues can either wait until you have a chance to look something up or ask a colleague, or it's so late that you can't do much anyway (I have a hearing this afternoon that I've known about for five months and really need representation!). So if you need time to look into something, say that you'll look into it and get back to them. And then look into it and get back to them in a reasonable time. 

Other than that, I don't know. I mean, you have to specialize more. Unless you're going to hang a shingle in Parry Sound or something, you're probably not going to have a general practice. Start picking a specific area of law. Read the law in that area. Keep up with it, if new cases are coming out. Reach out to other lawyers in that area. Express interest. If there are associations/list-servs, join those. 

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Did you access your network? Maybe your peers from law school and the contacts you've made over the years can help? There is no shame in reaching out to people. 

There are also many firms in the GTA (presuming that is where you are located), that do personal injury law and residential real estate. Many of these firms have low barriers to entry and are filled with foreign trained lawyers. With a law degree from Osgoode, you can sell yourself at these places quite easily. I was approached by some while even in law school. 

If you speak another language, you can also target ethnic firms, where the lawyers and clientele are predominantly from a specific community. 

You can set up your own shop. Criminal, family, immigration, employment, and wills and estates are most conductive for this. As mentioned above, you need to embrace the fact that a lot of lawyering is really learning as you go. There are lots of resources offered by the CBA and OBA to help get you started. I recommend going to events and sessions and improving on your knowledge in one or two areas of law. Networking and specialization is key. 

This really should be more emphasized in law school, but you should have ideally decided on a practice area when you got out of law school. Employers now want specialized knowledge and skills, and since you have stretched yourself thin doing a variety of different jobs, it is harder for you to demonstrate this. But it is not too late. 

Focus on learning an area of law ― such as family, wills and estates, employment, immigration, criminal, etc., and build your profile around this. If you worked in retail, you probably have some pretty decent business skills. Use them. Law is an entrepreneurial field. You don't need to work for someone else. You have a license to make money. Get out there and get some clients. Have some confidence in yourself. Yes, you will make mistakes, as everyone does, but you don't grow by not trying. 

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Posted (edited)
40 minutes ago, Deadpool said:

Did you access your network? Maybe your peers from law school and the contacts you've made over the years can help? There is no shame in reaching out to people. 

There are also many firms in the GTA (presuming that is where you are located), that do personal injury law and residential real estate. Many of these firms have low barriers to entry and are filled with foreign trained lawyers. With a law degree from Osgoode, you can sell yourself at these places quite easily. I was approached by some while even in law school. 

If you speak another language, you can also target ethnic firms, where the lawyers and clientele are predominantly from a specific community. 

You can set up your own shop. Criminal, family, immigration, employment, and wills and estates are most conductive for this. As mentioned above, you need to embrace the fact that a lot of lawyering is really learning as you go. There are lots of resources offered by the CBA and OBA to help get you started. I recommend going to events and sessions and improving on your knowledge in one or two areas of law. Networking and specialization is key. 

This really should be more emphasized in law school, but you should have ideally decided on a practice area when you got out of law school. Employers now want specialized knowledge and skills, and since you have stretched yourself thin doing a variety of different jobs, it is harder for you to demonstrate this. But it is not too late. 

Focus on learning an area of law ― such as family, wills and estates, employment, immigration, criminal, etc., and build your profile around this. If you worked in retail, you probably have some pretty decent business skills. Use them. Law is an entrepreneurial field. You don't need to work for someone else. You have a license to make money. Get out there and get some clients. Have some confidence in yourself. Yes, you will make mistakes, as everyone does, but you don't grow by not trying. 

Well said.

OP, a lot of lawyers that were in your position usually decided to go solo and learned through the ropes. It may be difficult at first, but you will eventually get the hang of it. What matters here is that you find a good mentor and make use of your network to help you out. You are already called and you have the tools. You just need to figure out how to take advantage of your skills.

Edited by timeisticking

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It probably is good career advice for OP to hang their own shingle, since OP pretty clearly can’t convince anyone (worthwhile) to hire them as an employee. But I can’t help but cringe at the idea of someone with essentially no experience going out into the real world and fucking up people’s lives by messing up their criminal defence, divorce, immigration application, or will. 

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9 hours ago, lawstudent20202020 said:

As someone who has dealt with a lot of realtors, No this is not work that can be done by someone without legal training. It seems basic to you because the basics of contract law is so entrenched in law students brains by the time they graduate. The average person doesn't even know what consideration is.  I have seen realtors (who technically have some level a legal training) put together some pretty horrendous (read: downright negligent) contracts. 

Oh man, this is so true. 

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5 hours ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

I can’t help but cringe at the idea of someone with essentially no experience going out into the real world and fucking up people’s lives by messing up their criminal defence, divorce, immigration application, or will. 

Crazy how in the US you can do exactly this a few months out of law school after passing the bar exam.

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46 minutes ago, msea said:

Yikes, this post was arrogant enough for me to go dig up my login so that I could respond to it.

”Yeah, I guess your best option since you suck at getting jobs and failed at that would be to try and set up your own shop. You’re probably going to fail at that though and fuck up people’s lives so good luck with that”

I’m sure the OP, who came here looking for help with something they’re struggling with, was really helped by your comment... I hope it made you feel better about yourself though in whatever position you currently find yourself in that makes you feel like you can smugly condescend to people you appear to see as beneath you. 

You can call me arrogant all you want. That doesn’t change the truth of my comment. Like it or not, it’s a very real concern and honestly one of the biggest problems with our legal system. 

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44 minutes ago, msea said:

Yikes, this post was arrogant enough for me to go dig up my login so that I could respond to it.

”Yeah, I guess your best option since you suck at getting jobs and failed at that would be to try and set up your own shop. You’re probably going to fail at that though and fuck up people’s lives so good luck with that”

I’m sure the OP, who came here looking for help with something they’re struggling with, was really helped by your comment... I hope it made you feel better about yourself though in whatever position you currently find yourself in that makes you feel like you can smugly condescend to people you appear to see as beneath you. 

I find that poster absolutely insufferable in general and that post was delivered with their typical utter lack of tact or social awareness. However, they actual do have a valid underlying point there (that, again, could have been delivered better).

I'm not really qualified to speak about anything but criminal law, but the importance of good mentorship really can't be overemphasized. Criminal defence attracts a lot of passionate, highly motivated, principled lawyers, but also as a practice area conducive to sole practitioners it sadly also attracts a number of lawyers who simply are taking whatever work they can get, and an extreme and disturbing lack of competence is very common those type of lawyers. Hell, I went to law school exclusively interested in criminal law, I went to a good Canadian school and did reasonably well there, I tailored my course selections and clinics to it, and I will put up my hand and say that I would be an incompetent criminal practitioner if not for the fantastic mentorship I received from a variety of great lawyers in a variety of contexts.

And the issues  involved in this workare hugely important to the individuals concerned. The competence of their lawyer can affect their liberty in a variety of ways. It can impact whether they receive a conviction, whether they receive a criminal record, what sentence they get, etc.

Now, the OP themselves explicitly wrote: "I feel overwhelmed that I'm harming my clients with my inexperience." So this is an issue that the OP is tuned into and that weighs on them. They seem like a good person and one that wants to ensure that their clients are competently and diligently represented. So I suspect that not only would opening their own crim shop be damaging to their clients (in the absence of good mentorship), but would also be extraordinarily stressful for the OP because they would recognize that their responsibilities outweigh their competence (which, again, is not a knock on them--it's basically inevitable for someone in their position).

I'm afraid I'm not sure what to tell the OP (and I'd love to be able to give them some positive and helpful advice), but I do think "you can always set up your own shop" is sort of trite advice and there are legitimate concerns here that need to be thought about and addressed before anyone does that.

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Surely there's a distinction to be made between objective competence and subjective competence. And I think both are necessary to take on certain work.

OP doesn't seem to, at the very least, have the latter as it extends to solo practice. So Blocked's point is entirely valid.

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Posted (edited)
46 minutes ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

You can call me arrogant all you want. That doesn’t change the truth of my comment. Like it or not, it’s a very real concern and honestly one of the biggest problems with our legal system. 

Let me be clear, I’m not questioning the truth of your comment. Someone who isn’t ready yet shouldn’t become solely responsible for files they aren’t equipped for until they either gain more experience or have some guidance.

What I’m questioning is the necessity of your comment. Even though what you said was true, there’s really no need to come in here, provide no real advice, and kick someone while they’re down. I don’t think your comment had any intention of actually trying to help the OP whatsoever. I sincerely hope that if you ever find yourself needing help or advice, that whoever you turn to for help is actually interested in helping you rather than taking the opportunity to feel better about themselves for not being in an unfortunate position at that time.

Edited by msea
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3 minutes ago, msea said:

Let me be clear, I’m not questioning the truth of your comment. Someone who isn’t ready yet shouldn’t become solely responsible for files they aren’t equipped for until they either gain more experience and have some guidance.

What I’m questioning is the necessity of your comment. Even if what you said was true, there’s really no need to come in here, provide no real advice, and kick someone while they’re down. I don’t think your comment had any intention of actually trying to help the OP whatsoever. I sincerely hope that if you ever find yourself needing help or advice, that whoever you turn to for help is actually interested in helping you rather than taking the opportunity to feel better about themselves for not being in an unfortunate position at that time.

You’re right. The point of my post was not to provide advice to OP. It was to flag the problem that other users had glossed over while telling OP to hang their own shingle – while that might be good career advice, it’s not necessarily a responsible suggestion when you consider factors other than OP’s own personal wellbeing.

Two observations, and then I’m done defending myself and you can call me all the mean words you want to. First, I think you’re projecting a bit, and you may want to reflect on that. Second, I think your moral outrage is misplaced. You’re mad at me for suggesting that incompetent people probably shouldn’t hang their own shingle. What you should be mad at is the suggestion that incompetent people should hang their own shingle.

Because my post, at worst, hurts OPs feelings for a little bit. The alternate suggestion, though, ruins people’s lives. 

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Posted (edited)

You know, since my attention was drawn back to this topic, I've actually been thinking about how the OP isn't at all the worst case, in terms of potentially inexperienced soles. The really bad cases that I've seen - and I'm sure everyone on this topic will agree - are those lawyers who really think they're great and don't have the first clue they actually are incompetent. Or those who can't even be bothered caring about that topic, one way or another, just as long as they are getting paid. Those two kinds are closely related, but I guess there's a slight difference. Point is, the OP clearly appreciates his or her deficiencies and is troubled by them and their implications to clients. So that anxiety is good and already suggests the OP has the right attitude.

Honestly, if you are sufficiently fueled by concern that you could screw up your client's life, and motivated to do whatever it takes to avoid doing that, that's about all you can ask from an inexperienced lawyer. I know it may not be the ideal. But if the marketplace was served only by lawyers who received ideal training, we'd have so few lawyers the whole thing would fall apart. I'll take someone inexperienced and anxious about it over someone more experienced and complacent any day of the week.

Now, all that said, BQ wasn't wrong. And if Msea wants to hang around this place in the future, advising confused peers and students and would-be students in a sunny and positive way, I'll welcome that contribution to the forum. But speaking as the designated forum asshole here (and seriously, BQ, Cleanhands - I was designated long before you showed up here and I haven't given up my spot) if the worst you can say about someone is they hang around here giving free and correct advice but you don't like the tone in which they do it, but all you can be bothered anteing up in turn is the occasional post bitching about how they give free advice while contributing nothing useful of your own...pretty much just fuck off again and come back when you feel like being useful.

Edited by Diplock
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15 minutes ago, Diplock said:

But speaking as the designated forum asshole here (and seriously, BQ, Cleanhands - I was designated long before you showed up here and I haven't given up my spot)

I hate to break it to you, but while you may be the OG you've still been unseated for the championship title. Your assholery is tempered by humour, empathy, wisdom borne through life experience, etc, which is more than can be said for our mutual friend there.

And I'm not trying to compete for the title; I guess it just comes naturally to me.

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